After deliberating for less than two hours, an Orange County jury yesterday found Kyle Shirakawa Handley, 36, guilty of the 2012 kidnapping and gruesome torture and sexual mutilation of a local marijuana dispensary operator. At a March 23 sentencing hearing, former pot grower Handley will face a maximum penalty of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Three other defendants: Hossein Nayeri, 39, Ryan Anthony Kevorkian, 37, and Naomi Josette Rhodus (formerly Naomi Kevorkian), also 37, have still yet to be tried in the case.
Although the name of the victim has never been released by police, the basic facts of the case suggest that none of the defendants is likely to avoid spending the rest of their lives in prison, except perhaps Nayeri, who infamously (if briefly) escaped from the Orange County Men’s Jail while awaiting trial in Jan. 2016. It apparently all started when Handley got to know the victim via his Fountain Valley pot growing business. Handley allegedly accompanied the victim on jaunts to Las Vegas and was aware the victim, who owned a large marijuana dispensary in Orange County, had access to massive amounts of cash.
From there, Handley and his friend Nayeri allegedly began surveilling the victim’s residence in Newport Beach and watching his movements. They followed him out to the desert a few times, and suspected that he was using the trips to bury his cash in the sand, like something out of a scene in Breaking Bad. Together, Handley and Nayeri are alleged to have devised a plot to kidnap the victim and force him to reveal the location of his supposed stash, which apparently never existed. The caper almost fell apart about a week before the kidnapping when Newport Beach police pulled over Nayeri for a routine traffic violation. Nayeri ran from the scene and managed to elude the cops but left behind in his vehicle a trove of surveillance gear and material, the relevance of which police only later realized.
On Oct. 2, 2012, the victim and his female housemate were awoken at gunpoint, bound with zip-ties and forced into a van. As the vehicle headed toward the desert location where the suspects believed a large sum of money had been hidden, they tortured the victim, according to prosecutors, “with a blow torch, a Taser gun, and a whip. Once in the desert, the victim was mutilated and bleach was poured on him in an effort to destroy any DNA evidence.”
Ultimately, the victim’s housemate was able to run a mile in the dark to a road where she encountered a police car and led authorities to the victim, who then spent “an extensive period of time in the hospital recovering from his injuries.”
Newport Beach PD began investigating the crime immediately and interviewed neighborhood residents, one of whom had spotted a suspicious vehicle and had written down the license plate. The car in question was registered to Handley, and when police searched his house, they found evidence linking him to the crime. Police later arrested the other suspects, including Nayeri, who had fled to Iran. Their trials are scheduled to begin later this month and in March of this year.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).